2005 Readers Poll
2005 Critics Picks
Best Afterschool Activity

The family that fights together stays together? Austin Martial Arts Academy has 25 years of experience letting kids work off some extra steam with classes in all forms for kids as young as 2! Your soon-to-be sensei will not only learn how to waste any two-by-four that has an attitude problem, but may take an interest in yoga, martial arts for stress reduction, and concentration, as well. And on Saturdays, the entire clan can join in with a family martial arts class.

Austin Martial Arts Academy
5000 Bee Caves Rd. #210

Best All-Ages Music Venue

This all-ages venue puts it right out there, letting the young ones have a taste of the night life ... but not the liquor, hence the gigantically obvious black X marks gleefully applied by eager bouncers. Local "kid rock" bands (we hate ourselves for typing that ...) get a chance at Emo's indoor stage, with an open, shadowy acoustic. Bigger names trounce the outdoor stage, where sweating is not optional, and the feeling is more than intimate. You will get to know your neighbor. And they just might be 17.

Best Arcade

Save the world from alien invaders! Kung-fu battle with big-headed babies! Create a social uprising with your sweet foot music! And do it all in the time that you should probably be devoting to the freshman calc quiz you have in an hour. Le Fun est vraiment la joie d'vivre.

Best Birthday Cakes

After introducing the practice of using forks at a celebration, it is rumored that England's King Henry II ran into a problem. His nobility began attacking one another, thinking forks some new-fangled dagger. Be warned: Should you bring one of Lucy's cakes to your next birthday party, you might run into a similar situation in the ensuing fight over seconds.

Best Bookstore

BookPeople is the ideal location for a kid to get lost in a book. The children’s section is enormous, the shelves always filled from floor to ceiling, and there’s even a service desk for the quick finding of any obscure, beloved picture book. Parents might find that their children "disappear" while reading here, as there are tiny caves carved into the bottom of the children’s theatre stage, just big enough for a little one to curl into with the latest edition of their favorite series.

603 N. Lamar

Best Clothing

Kids grow fast. They also spill a lot. Occasionally, they even decide to cut their clothes with scissors when they’re bored in class. For the parent who has no idea if that hot new T-shirt will last a week, Old Navy is a savior. Cheap enough for any budget, the store is still hip enough for the fashion-conscious tween or teen. In addition to the wide selection of clothing from sporty to dressy, the store sells shoes and underwear, making it the perfect one-stop shop.

Old Navy, 2901 S Capitol of TX Hwy. S., 328-0953; and five other locations around Austin

Best Party Place

In a time brimming with electronic kiddie palaces and manmade pleasure parks, it is refreshing to award a local nature spot Best Kids Party Place. For more than 50 years the Depwe Family has privately held and operated this inviting park featuring covered and open picnic tables, grills, a volleyball court, fishing and swimming areas, and a good ol'-fashioned horseshoe pit (BYO horseshoes and stakes), right on Lake Austin.

West Lake Beach
2509 Westlake Dr.

Best Place to Commune With Nature

All aboard! Grab some cotton candy and take a seat, the Zilker Zephyr will take the kids on a whirlwind (very low-speed) ride around the park. The children’s train is only one of the many reasons why kids love this park like no other. There are always enough swings, three playgrounds, and even a fire-truck turned playscape. The kids are as entertained as if they were in Wonka’s factory. Except instead of eating chocolate, they’re exercising, and instead of exploring an industrial foodscape, they are playing outdoors.

Zilker Park
2100 Barton Springs Rd.

Best Recreation Center

Whether you're looking for an afternoon family treat or a retreat from a family afternoon, YMCA has a few options of which you should be aware: day care services and monthly programs designed to give parents a weekend night without the kids, as well as plenty of activities and programs the entire family can enjoy together. It's not just fun for young men to stay at the Y-M-C-A anymore. Cue silly hand movements.

YMCA Town Lake Branch, 1100 W. Cesar Chavez, 322-9622; and five other locations around Austin

Best Restaurant

We are so jealous when other parents' kids take them to EZ’s. It’s totally the cool place to go. Pleeease, can we go? They have, like, the best milkshakes and cutest little pizzas, and all our friends will be there! The atmosphere at EZ’s, with retro booths and black-and-white tiles, is laid-back and fun – not overwhelming, not overstimulating. And you'll be so happy that we parents will enjoy the menu, packed with mature items like the bean burger and their famous chicken salad. It'll keep us distracted.

Best Shoes

Nordstrom began as a shoe store a very long time ago in a faraway land called Seattle. Though it has expanded over the years across the country and now includes clothing, the store’s roots are quick to spot. The entire first floor is covered in shoes. And the best part? There are miniature versions for the kids. Sure, there’s a wide array of sensible tennis shoes and Stride Rite loafers, but such staples can be found almost anywhere. What won’t be found at any old department store are the Lacoste sneakers, leopard-print clogs, and leather infant moccasins.

2901 Capital of TX Hwy. S., 512/691-3500
9607 Research, 512/651-6180
5601 Brodie, Sunset Valley, 512/697-2600

Best Sports Program

WAYA offers kids practice for high school sports at the early ages of 3 and 4. Basketball, football, baseball, and soccer classes are all available, as well as lacrosse, gymnastics, cheerleading, and yoga. Go ahead: Start planning for that letter jacket now!

West Austin Youth Association
1314 Exposition

Best Summer Camp

Kids Acting has eight locations in Austin, each specializing in a different production for 12 weeks of the summer. Classes vary depending on what class and location kids take. Older kids can participate in Mystery Dinner Theater, often bringing in their own ideas and props, or one of the many different musical productions that may go on for that season. Younger kids take a half-day program that focuses on memorization and short skits.

2826 Real

Best Teen Hangout

This new entertainment Eden has almost two full acres (75,000 square feet) of bowling, billiards, laser tag, video games, rock climbing, glow golf, and a cafe under one roof. And in its year or so since opening in Austin, Main Event has become known not just by parents booking birthday parties but also by the olders kids as a cool place to hang – especially over the summer, when specials like Monday Night Fever and Tuesday's Half-Price Night could be enjoyed on what are usually school nights.

Main Event
13301 Hwy. 183 N.

Toy Joy / Terra Toys   Roxanne Jo Mitchell / Bret Brookshire

Best Toys

Our readers love both of these Austin-based toytowns! Terra Toys offers an escape from reality. Step into colorful walls lined with Steiff teddy bears, a wooden Playmobil world that makes Dad jealous, and imported toys that you can't get anywhere else. Check out the kids clothes shop Dragonsnaps within. Toy Joy is bursting with pizazz, right out onto the street, inviting kids and adults alike to come in and play. Put up yer dukes with the classic fighting nuns, say hello to that certain Sanrio Kitty, and let the candy department bring you back to the days of Chick-o-Sticks and Fireballs. And the employees are the biggest kids of all, setting up funny displays, running around with all the energy and excitement of Christmas morning.

Toy Joy
403 W. Second

Terra Toys
2438 W. Anderson Ste. 1-C

Best Video Game Rental/Purchase

If the local Hollywood Video seems overwhelmingly populated by 14-year-old boys, don't automatically assume it's because of the cute clerk behind the counter. Gamer aficionados love this place, because it's given games like Grand Theft Auto and Burnout Revenge a certain respect: a specialty game store within the store complete with game stations and tip mags.

Game Crazy at Hollywood Video, 2407 S. Congress #100, 444-4363; and 14 other locations around Austin

Bret Brookshire

Best Video/DVD Selection

With 1,702 titles in stock, Vulcan’s children’s section has all the classics and new releases. Whether we’re dying to share the joys of Babar, Fraggle Rock, and Madeline, or quelling that curious Bob the Builder obsession, there’s no better place to find exactly what we’re looking for. And it’s cheap, too. At $1.50 a pop, sure, kids, go ahead and rent two.

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